The Roots Report: Telling Tales

Okee dokee folks… “Shut up and sing the song!” That is what my friend, the late singer-songwriter Jack Hardy, used to say. I even have a t-shirt that has those words printed on the back. He always believed that the songs would speak for themselves. And while I mostly agree with that, a lot can be said for interesting between-song banter. What I think Jack really meant was don’t explain the song to death and then go on to sing the same words that you already used. Over the past few weeks I have been to shows by Kris Kristofferson, David Crosby, Donovan and Todd Rundgren. Over the years I have seen hundreds of concerts. While the performance and music quality are at the top of the reasons to enjoy the event, interesting anecdotes are the cherry on top.

The Kristofferson and Donovan concerts were polar opposites in the way the shows were done. While I enjoyed the Kristofferson concert, I wish he said something besides “thank you,” which seemed to be the two words woven into the last line of every song he sang. I am sure that Kristofferson has great stories besides the ones he set to songs. His speaking voice is perfect for imparting tales, but he didn’t tell any. Last week I saw Donovan at the Garde Arts Center in New London. During Donovan’s first set he only performed FOUR songs, and I was fine with this. One yarn he spun was quite lengthy — almost 15 minutes — and his sagas were just as enjoyable as his music. Donovan spoke of how he helped Paul McCartney write a verse of “Yellow Submarine” and how Herman’s Hermits’ Peter Noone yanked him into a beach bathroom to save him from a stampede of young girls who were chasing them. That is the stuff that makes the night unforgettable. Both Kristofferson and Donovan were solo and just played an acoustic guitar and sang, but as much as I like Kristofferson, the Donovan show came out leagues in front because of the stories. Another example is from the David Crosby show that I went to last week, again at the Garde. Now I love CSN(Y) but Crosby was never my favorite of the bunch. This show gave me a new opinion of him and a good part of it was from his stories and between-song banter. I saw his bandmate Graham Nash a few years back at the Park Theatre in Cranston. To this day it was one of the best shows I have ever seen both musically and for the stories Nash told. It was the perfect blend of the two. Now a lot of people deify Bob Dylan, and I have seen him live more times than needed. He usually will not say “thank you,” doesn’t introduce the songs and doesn’t utter a word other than when he is singing. This drops the Dylan shows I have seen to the bottom of my concert list.

A few years back I had a gig in New Hampshire. It took me a year to book this show and I was thrilled to have locked it in. A few days before the show I started having problems with my hand and I could barely form chords due to the stenosis in my neck wreaking havoc on a nerve. I did not want to cancel the show, so I had to figure out what chords I could play and that didn’t leave me with a lot of performance options. I wound up telling a lot of stories about the songs and tried to make it like a version of VH1’s “Storytellers” just to get through the night. It wound up being, for me, one of my most memorable shows. Folks were coming up to me after my performance and telling me how much they enjoyed it and talked to me about my songs and recited lines back to me that moved them. That made me feel great, and as a singer-songwriter that kind of praise is what keeps you going. And as an audience member, the songs AND the stories are what keep ME going to the shows! Read on…

It’s “Coming Up Close” and almost sold out — Aimee Mann is coming to the Columbus Theatre on June 29. The singer-songwriter, who many only know because of her days with ‘Til Tuesday and the hit “Voices Carry,” is light years beyond that and has released about a dozen solo recordings. Her latest, Mental Illness, is as brilliant as her previous offerings. If you don’t already have it you should. “Wise Up” and get tix to the show if you can or at least buy the CD (read my interview with Aimee Mann at motifri.com/aimeemann). Also coming to the Columbus on June 28 are The Mountain Goats and former Providence resident Erin McKeown. For more, “Rollercoaster” over to ColumbusTheatre.com

One of the funniest memes that I have seen on the internet is a still from The Wizard of Oz. It is Dorothy holding Toto with thought bubbles popping out of each of their heads. Dorothy’s says, “I miss Kansas” and Toto’s says, “I miss the rains down in Africa.” If you are like Toto and miss the rains down in Africa, then “Hold The Line.” You can remedy this by heading to Twin River on June 17 for Toto — the band, not the dog! The band, known for the hits, “Rosanna,” “I’ll Supply the Love,” “Africa,” “I’ll Be Over You” and many more, will be performing at the Event Center in the Lincoln location. For more about this show and others, “Mushanga” over to TwinRiver.com.

I get press releases every day. Sometimes I just glaze over as I read them, check out the music and am unimpressed. Sometimes something catches my attention. Though I have heard OF the band Cowboy Mouth I could not place their music. So I “YouTubed” them and liked it! Go ahead, check them out. I’ll wait…

Cowboy Mouth was “formed during the glory days of grunge music, and forged a different sound from the very start. It’s a sound rooted in rock, punk, blues and the attitude of the Big Easy, a town known for its week-long parties and swampy, southern vibe.” They will be at the Greenwich Odeum on Sunday, June 18. It looks like it will be a rocking show! For more, “Jenny Says” get to GreenwichOdeum.com.

Bil Lepp, Bill Harley and Don White join forces to take you on a wild journey of love and laughter through the Dad Experience. Give Dad a break and let him laugh and revel in the shared experiences that make up fatherhood. Father’s Daze is a delightful view of the world through the eyes of three dads who just happen to be highly accomplished humorists/storytellers/performers. This happens at Sandywoods Center for the Arts in Tiverton on Saturday, June 17 at 7:30pm. Take your dad to the show — it’s better than a tie! For more, “Wacka Wacka Woo” to Sandywoods.org

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

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